Chapter 6: Continuation Bets (cbets)
What is a continuation bet?
A continuation bet is when a player raises preflop and bets the flop.
Continuation betting is a complex and nuanced concept. This guide is an introduction to the most important factors determining whether or not to continuation bet the flop.
You can also continuation bet the turn and river. This article, however, will focus on “heads-up” pots on the flop; that is, pots between the preflop raiser and a single preflop caller. In multiway pots, you need to play in a much more straightforward and value-oriented way, as you are against more players and need stronger holdings to value bet.
What does a continuation bet achieve?
Continuation betting is done for value, as a bluff, or as a semi-bluff. To begin with continuation betting, you should understand your own hand and understand your opponent.
Types of hands you should be continuation betting
If you have a strong hand then you should bet, as you want to play a larger pot. This is called “value betting.”
For example, let’s say you hold A♥K♥ on a flop of A♦5♠3♣. On this flop, you have a strong hand with top pair, top kicker. You generally want to be betting, as you can be called by many worse hands, such as weaker aces, straight draws, and underpairs (that is, pocket pairs that are lower than the highest card on the board; on an ace-high board, for example, J♦J♥ is an underpair).
A value bet is a bet that you make when you can reasonably be called by worse hands.
With this holding on this board texture, you have a very clear value bet.
You want to lean towards continuation betting as a semi-bluff if you have a hand with low showdown value and high equity. Learning these two concepts is essential to understanding semi-bluffing. To illustrate, here is an example hand that has both low showdown value and high equity.
You hold T♥9♥ on a board of 8♥7♥5♣. In this case, your hand value is only ten high. If you go to showdown, you are going to lose against even a hand as weak as queen high, which would be very likely to fold on the flop against a continuation bet. Your hand therefore has very little showdown value.
But you also have a straight flush draw, which gives you plenty of equity. To understand equity, just imagine that both players are all-in on the flop. The percentage of times that your hand wins is your equity.
For example, what kind of equity do you have with this hand against a player that holds 2♥2♠? Their pocket pair is currently ahead of your ten high in showdown value. You might be shocked, however, to find out that when you run the two hands against each other in a simulation program such as Equilab, T♥9♥ has an equity of 70%! This means that 70% of the time, you are going to win if both players go all-in on the flop.
What happens if your opponent holds a strong hand, such as a pair of queens, which they decided to flat call rather than 3-bet preflop? You might be surprised to find out that T♥9♥ is still ahead with 52% equity.
On this particular board, T♥9♥ has high equity against your opponent and is a great candidate for a continuation bet based on equity alone.
What do you do if you have a hand low in showdown value with less equity?
Even a weaker hand, such as T♦9♥, should be used as a semi-bluffing hand on a board like 8♥7♥5♣. Your open-ended straight draw gives you good equity, but you have very little showdown value with simply ten high.
An open-ended straight draw (OESD) is a straight draw that can be completed at either end by one of eight cards. (It is also known as an up-and-down straight draw.) In this case any 6 or J gives you a straight.
A semi-bluff is a bet made when you can be reasonably certain that your opponent will fold better hands and hands that have better showdown value than yours.
Types of hands you should not be continuation betting
If you have a medium-strength hand, you ought to play a smaller pot. You should be more inclined to check and call with these hands. This concept is called “pot control.” Medium-strength hands have much better showdown value than the previous hands; therefore it is less important to bluff with them.
You can check and call against opponents who are overly aggressive, and check and fold against opponents who are tighter.
For example, let’s say you hold 8♥8♠ on a flop of A♦3♥9♠. In this case you should lean towards checking rather than betting. This is because most worse hands are not going to call your bet.
If you bet here, you will frequently be called by aces, some underpairs, and pairs of tens. Hands you currently beat that will call you include straight draws such as JQ and KQ, but there are simply not enough worse hands for you to bet and be called.
Pot control should be used when you have showdown value but low equity against the range of hands with which your opponent will call your continuation bet.
If you have a hand that is low in showdown value and in equity, then your decision to continuation bet is determined by your opponent. In general, you do not want to be continuation betting as a pure bluff. Do not be afraid to check and fold to aggression with your weakest hands!
Understanding your hand at a deeper level: Board texture and hand ranges
Your opponent is going to give you much more credit when you continuation bet on an A-high board if you have raised UTG rather than from the BTN. Why? As we show in our article on unopened preflop raises, when you are opening only 12% rather than 45% of your hands, the chance that your hand contains a strong ace is much higher. Most opponents understand this.
Understanding your opponent
Understanding your hand is just one part of the puzzle. Another part is understanding your opponent. This is especially important for determining when a semi-bluff is profitable, and whether or not you can be called by worse hands.
The most important poker statistic for continuation betting is your opponent's “folded to continuation bet” (FCB) percentage. Poker Copilot breaks this down by the flop, turn, and river, as well as showing whether your opponent is in position or out of position.
Some of your hands will be straightforward decisions based on the strength of your hand, your showdown value, and your equity.
Other decisions, however, will be more nuanced. In this case, the guideline is that the higher the percentage of hands your opponent is folding to continuation bets, the more fold equity you have. This means that continuation betting can be done as a bluff more often. When your opponent has a low fold to continuation bet, you have less fold equity. In this case, you should be continuation betting less as a bluff and more for value.
Good opponents will usually have a fold to continuation bet somewhere around 42%–57% at the lower stakes. Opponents who stray from this range can be exploited.
One common mistake newer players make is basing their decisions on insufficient data. While the fold to flop cbet statistic starts to become useful after a few hundred hands, you need thousands, if not tens of thousands, of hands on your opponents before you can completely trust it!
A word of caution: do not continuation bet too often
It used to be thought that at the lower stakes players could profitably continuation bet at frequencies of 70% or higher. While this strategy may have been profitable a decade ago, online poker has evolved and it is profitable no longer.
In the current state of poker, many players will have a continuation bet frequency of 40%–60%.
Even if your opponent has a high fold to continuation bet, you should try to cbet hands as bluffs that have at least some equity. For example, having a single over-card, a backdoor flush draw, or a gutshot straight draw gives you a better chance of winning the hand.
A backdoor flush draw occurs when you have a hand such as T♥9♥ on a board of 2♦6♥7♠. If the turn and river are both hearts, then you will make a ten-high flush. This hand also has what is called a “gutshot straight draw,” meaning that if you hit an 8 you will make a straight.
As a last lesson in continuation betting, imagine that you hold T♥9♥ on a board of 2♦6♥7♠. Think of the situations in which you would decide to continuation bet and those in which you would not, bearing in mind your position at the table, your opponent's position at the table, the value of your hand, and the frequency with which your opponent is folding to continuation bets.
These are just the first steps to understanding when to continuation bet or not. Our article on check-raising will give you another piece of the puzzle.